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Hungry for Answers
I am afraid to eat. No underweight model in Teen Vogue initiated the phobia, and the scale does not pose any threat to my self esteem. Food is no longer my friend, rather a foe that I have associated with agony and skepticism. I spend a vast majority of my time analyzing food and few conversations are held in my house without the mention of it.
My fear first presented itself last winter when I got a bad case of food poisoning. There is nothing like regurgitating the entirety of your stomach contents to make you develop suspicion towards the foods you put in your stomach. I recovered quickly from the slightly traumatizing experience and I soon returned to my balanced diet of chips and salsa and cereal.
After a month or two of relief and normality I began to develop occasional stomach pains. I simply ignored the pain and continued on with my daily routine, hoping they would eventually subside. They didn’t. In fact, the occasional pains developed into a more regular cycle of discomfort. Beside my wallet and a pack of gum one could always find a pack of Rolaids Extra- Strength relief chews in my purse.
With my sophomore year winding down to a close I told my mom about the pains however, with the fast- approaching end-of-course tests and final exams she decided I didn’t need to miss any school and so I had to wait until summer vacation to visit my pediatrician. After the first visit to my doctor’s office I was told to keep a food diary of what I was eating, when I ate it, and whether it caused any pain.
I half-heartedly kept my food diary up to date for about three days and then simply bought more Rolaids and my first pack of antacids. Summer 2010 soon turned from days of tanning and relaxation with all of my friends into days of distress. I began cutting out foods that I deemed harmful to my weakening digestive health, such as fried, spicy, and acidic foods.
Unusual habits such as sleeping erect, in a sitting position, as well as sleeping with a trashcan, began to form. I continued to further limit my diet by cutting out anything with a remote sense of flavor or taste. I went on a family vacation to Florida and that is when my condition really took a turn for the worst and after ordering a single hamburger bun from a seafood restaurant, my parents began to realize the severity of the issue.
I re-visited my doctor and a battery of blood tests were conducted, however, I left the office with few answers and even less hope. My sweet sixteen in July ended at four in the morning in dire agony. Despite my condition I still planned on going on my annual solo visit to Charleston, South Carolina to my grandparents’ house. While there I noticed a change in my personality and a steady decline in my weight.
My visit to Charleston proved to me that something else had to be done, as I spent a number of my days eating little to nothing. I could see the brows of my family begin to furrow in concern as I would spend the majority of my time alone and in pain. I began praying and reading the Bible in hope of some relief or healing.
My mom urgently scheduled an appointment with a Pediatric Gastroenterologist and started thinking of remedies for my agony. I cut out all lactose from my diet, with little to no relief. After multiple visits to WebMD my mom and I learned about Celiac Disease and gluten intolerances that can cause stomach upsets. Gluten, the protein found in wheat, malt, barley, and rye, was thus removed as I said goodbye to any pasta, bread, and cake.
After a few weeks of constant pain and no relief from my new diet restrictions the day came to meet with Dr. Sherrod, my gastroenterologist. I had waited for this day for so long and was anxious for an answer, and quite honestly, a bagel. Dr. Sherrod was everything I had hoped for as she quickly began ordering more blood work, as well as an upper and lower endoscopy. Much to my delight she thought gluten wasn’t the culprit, so I got my bagel.
Junior year began with new teachers, new classes, yet the same pain. I missed half of my first week of school to undergo my less than enthralling endoscopy, a procedure where a small camera is used to look at my digestive tract and biopsies are taken. With my AP classes, cheerleading, and social events in full swing I waited patiently for my results.
Celiac Disease was the diagnosis. My blood test came back negative however the endoscopic findings reported severe damage from gluten and I was placed on a strict gluten free diet, for life. While most would’ve been upset to never have another cheeseburger, birthday cake, or slice of pizza, I was simply happy to finally have a concrete answer for my sufferings.
I immediately adhered to my gluten free diet. The next few months as I remember them are hazy. All I can say is there was no relief from my new diet, at all. The damage takes a little while to heal so I tried being patient. The pain wasn’t subsiding however, and at this point I had lost over twenty pounds.
Several more tests were run and worries heightened amongst my doctors and my family. I spent most nights up until after midnight praying or just waiting until I had exhausted myself to a point in which the pain was bearable enough for me to fall asleep. Celiac disease can cause malnutrition and anemia so the bruises I received from cheerleading were unsightly.
I ate barely anything at all and my friends began to tag my condition with anorexia or some other eating disorder. I felt as if no one was there for me. I declined numerous invitations to spend time with my friends, and the few occasions that I did attend a social gathering, I was quiet and reserved.
No one could comprehend what I was going through and I tried to understand the bitter feelings that began to form from my friends. They didn’t understand that I wanted to spend time with them; however I didn’t want them to see me in my feeble state. I didn’t want to burden them with my agony, depression, and irritability so I kept to myself and let no one into my world.
I don’t want this to sound pathetic in any way, but I’ll be honest and say that this year there have only been a handful of nights when I didn’t cry from frustration, pain, or loneliness. I only found comfort in my family’s presence and in prayer. My parents became deeply worried and my mom would be on the verge of tears every time she gazed upon my ever-shrinking waistline.
My family was always there for me in my times of need. I felt sorry for my mom, as I could see her stress levels and worry become nearly unbearable. She had always had such healthy children and she didn’t know how to handle this overwhelming situation. She took the brunt force of my irritability and frustration, and it wasn’t fair for me to put that on her.
I pray for forgiveness for the way I treated my family at times. And I also pray every day in thanksgiving for the family God granted me. Without my brother’s tolerance, my father’s strength, and my mother’s compassion; I’m not sure how much worse this experience would have been.
I had lost thirty pounds and I was dwindling away into nothing. Being an optimist was hard during this time but there were a few good things that came out of this. I became a structured and organized person, more driven than I ever was. I was trying to prove to myself that I was strong enough to push past this antagonist. I became much more spiritual as I looked for strength and healing through prayer and Scripture.
There is no happy end to this story… yet. I write this in a hospital bed with a tube in my nose, pain in my abdomen, and hope in my heart. My doctors and I will figure out what has caused my happy and healthy life to be turned upside down. Until that time I will wait and pray for an answer. As I reflect back on this experience I know I have become a stronger and a better person, and for that, I thank the Lord.